For two weeks in February 2017 we lived and worked in the San Francisquito neighborhood of Querétaro. With the help of local residents and our collaborators at BEMA, a newly-developed cultural platform, we constructed a mobile coffee cart using salvaged window frames and doors from the BEMA site. The cart became a small extension of BEMA, a platform to visit our neighbors, offer them coffee and talk about their ways of working and living.
BEMA is a cultural hub in-the-making where exhibitions, conversations and workshops will take place and neighbors will come for coffee. Its mission is to build bridges with locals and an international community of cultural producers. The streets around BEMA are composed of small family houses, nearly all of which interact with street life, creating a micro-economy and microcosm of community activity.
BEMA, other shops and residences on Calle de Revillagigedo have an aspect of permeability. They become semi-public spaces, which are organized and maintained by members of the community. Our project recognizes the local producers from family-owned businesses of San Francisquito, bottom-up endeavors and generators of citizens’ power in the resilient San Francisquito neighborhood.
Participants: MacKenzie Boomer, Lisa Eggert, Lea Kirstein, Robert Köpke, Marjetica Potrč and Tessa Zettel.
Interviews with San Francisquito Residents
Antonio Breña, Locksmith
Antonio Breña has a narrow locksmith’s shop at the entrance of his home on Revillagigedo. We got to know him while he was making keys for our residency at BEMA. His family and clients enter the small house through the front door, decorated by a large painting of a key.
Antonio moved his workshop to San Francisquito from the city center after 20 years of service, when the landlord sold the property for a department store development. Rents in the centre, he notes, are expensive in comparison to those in San Franciquito. Locksmithing was the family business. Antonio learned his trade from his father and brother. He makes special tools, elegant slivers of curved metal, to open locks and for fine work. He enjoyed showing us several variations of handmade openers. He is proud of his career and the loyal customers who come from the city center. He believes that they pay him for trust and not simply his services. Trust is a big part of his business, “You can’t have just anyone make your keys”.
He partners with his neighbor Eduardo, who is a welder. They describe their collaboration as a mutually beneficial strategy typical of the spirit of solidarity in the neighborhood. We found collaboration among entrepreneurs and small businesses the neighborhood’s resilience against the gentrification process threatening San Francisquito.
Eduardo Capatillo, Welder
Eduardo Capatillo developed his craft as an industrial welder in Michigan, USA. When the factory closed he moved back to Querétaro, and was worried about getting enough work to support his family. Eduardo says that although Querétaro has a highly competitive service industry, he has a constant flow of work. He was recently invited to share a workshop space and get involved in a
long term project. He is proud of his accomplishments as a welder and feels respected for his expertise.
Eduardo loves his craft. Sometimes, when he is deeply involved in his work it’s hard for him to quit and return home. When asked about the future of small-scale businesses like his he says that the major obstacle will be the young generation’s lack of interest in acquiring skills. They prefer not to work and some get involved in drugs. He observes the young people of San Francisquito and guesses that nearly half of them are out of work. He is teaching his 16-year old son to weld so that he may learn responsibility and the satisfaction of working with one’s hands.
He balances his passion for resolving complex challenges with small personal commissions. He has lived in San Francisquito for 30 years. He charges less there than in the city center. If a client can’t afford extras, he does them without charge, for him the greater satisfaction is a job well done. He supports other craftsmen in the neighborhood and when he walks through San Francisquito he is greeted by neighbors sitting in front of their homes and sitting at the window to the street.
When asked about the neighborhood’s safety, Eduardo said, “Me and Antonio are the most dangerous people in the street.” making light of our question. Locals reject San Francisquito’s bad reputation and feel it persists because it is a close-knit community and disconnected from other areas of Querétaro. In a way, this isolation suits San Francisquito neighbors well. It protects the stability of the network of small businesses and keeps the status quo of the place.
Ismael Morales works from his home off of the square on Revilagigedo. Twenty years ago he lost the majority of this house, when the city built a road through the neighborhood, leaving him with a thin triangular sliver. Ismael treats the road as his workshop. He has a heavy wooden bench permanently installed on the footpath. As he works, his children play on a swing hanging from a tree covered with boganvilla overhanging the street. “This street is my house.” He jokes “I will put a door here. Neighbors use my house to come in and out from San Francisquito.” He is a long- time resident and gatekeeper of the neighborhood.
His statement represents the permeability of Revillagigedo street, where small family houses interact with street life. The most prominent characteristic of the Revillagigedo street is the interchange between private and public spaces. Residential spaces turn into a public spaces, like Antonio’s locksmith shop. Workshops and storefronts are located at the entrance people’s homes and the other way around. Public space becomes temporarily private, as is the case of Ismael‘s workshop.
Ismael can repair and build anything. He likes the challenge of solving problems that come out of the design process. He showed us his collection of handmade tools, which he developed for special projects. He approaches all of his jobs with confidence and applies years of tinkering and precision to his work.
Ismael believes his craft is disappearing. There’s also less wood available now than there used to be. He points to an overflow of cheap products from China, peoples‘ diminishing standards for quality products and the market trend toward seasonal products and planned obsolescence. He feels that people no longer value his craft. “It’s like a game of cards. People change values and household items like they change cards.” he says. We thought his was a straightforward explanation about the depletion of human and natural resources in the globalization processes.
Antonia Martínez Castro, Grocery Shop Owner
We bought our necessities at Antonia Martínez Castro’s shop on Revillagigedo. It’s a small shop with big Corona sign painted on a blue facade. When you step in, you are overwhelmed by millions of small products neatly piled on shelves. Lively Antonia is behind the counter in the middle of it all. “It’s the right size, I never wanted it to be bigger.” she says. The shop is always busy. People buy a few things, such as a package of beans, batteries, plastic trays, a can of beer or a bottle of soda. Antonia also sells food prepared by her neighbors at Lolita kitchen. “Home-made cookies are better than those in packages” said a neighbor as they stepped up to the counter. Antonia trusts her clients. If they can’t pay immediately she keeps an informal account of their purchases in a small notebook to be paid when people have the means.
She feels respected and connected to the community. “We are neighbors, we help each other,” she says. She does not compete with other shops and carries slightly different stock so that all shops on Revillagigedo, including hers, can prosper.
Antonia’s profit from the shop contributes to her family’s income, although it is not the main financial pillar of the household. The shop is located on the ground floor of her house and has been there for almost half a century. Antonia continued her family tradition and assumed responsibility of her mother’s shop, moving it to her house 49 years ago. She is 76 years old and said that she does not think the shop will continue when she retires. “No one would do what I do – I am here all day.” she says. Nowadays products come with fixed prices which is not good for small businesses like hers and she insists that business was easier in the past. Antonia does not keep record of her sales and does not pay taxes. Her shop is informal and typical of Revillagigedo street.
Dolores and Rosa Sánchez, Lolita Kitchen
Across the street from BEMA, we noticed a bright orange sign on a large wooden door. The handwritten sign included weekend opening hours and a menu. We returned on Saturday and sat at a neatly covered table to give it a try. The food was homemade, delicious, and made in front of us. From open to close it is busy with neighbors and families gathering to eat and pick up food to take home. The cooks proudly told us that people come all the way from other barrios to enjoy a meal at Lolita Kitchen. The businesses’ success and popularity is a result of satisfied customers and word of mouth reputation. Lolita Kitchen show their gratitude to their guests with a big sign on the wall, which says, “Thank you for recommending us”.
Dolores Sánchez and her sister Rosa are renowned cooks. They started cooking for private parties and events and opening Lolita Kitchen at their home nine years ago was a natural step. They first served food in the entrance of their home, but as it became too crowded they decided to convert the living room facing the street into a restaurant. They are satisfied with their success but acknowledge that it is primarily a work of love and only supplements their family’s income. They all have other jobs. Regularly, they bring their goods to Antonia, and she sells them at her shop. The collaboration is an example of the mutually beneficial spirit of solidarity in the neighborhood.
Dolores and Rosa grew up in the neighborhood and appreciate that San Francisquito has an atmosphere of a small town. Residents walk down Revillagigedo and stop to eat and chat with friends. It feels safe, too. Delores remarks, “The more people you see on the street, the more protected you feel.”
Residents discuss prospective changes to the neighborhood. Strangers and visitors are more common nowadays, a hotel is being built on the edge of the neighborhood and banks have already entered the neighborhood. These developments threaten to disrupt the balance and quiet coexistence between small businesses and residents. When we asked Lolita Kitchen if this poses a threat to the neighborhood’s identity, they replied, “The neighborhood will prevail! We have strong traditions, look at the Concheros’ mesas.”
Grace Montana, Estética
We passed Grace’s house on Revillagigedo every day on our way to Antonia’s market. We were drawn to Grace’s shop by a bright handwritten poster advertising unisex haircuts. The entrance to her home was narrow and stacked on either side by shelves of used electronics, cds, toys, shoes, and other brick-a-brack. Grace was getting rid of old household goods after returning to San Francisquito from her home on the northern border of Querétaro. She explained that, recently, organized crime made it unsuitable for her children and she returned to San Francisquito to live with her parents and among caring familiar faces.
Her living room was small and comfortably converted into a beauty salon. A chair and vanity mirror stood against the wall opposite the front door. Grace’s mother and 3 children sat on a large couch in the center of the room. They greeted us with warmth and curiosity and unanimously insisted that we should have come by much sooner. Grace and her parents shared stories of old neighbors, the Concheros and guardian spirits. Each corner and home on Revillagigedo had its own long standing history and spirituality which was woven into the 50 year that their family lived in San Francisquito. Although some residents and childhood friends had moved away, according to Grace, for the most part, the neighborhood was exactly the same.
Grace explained that her client base in Queretaro was steadily growing and she was receiving new commissions through positive reviews. She explained that many people come to San Francisquito and she makes a lot of house-calls to “La Colonia” (the suburbs of Querétaro). Grace insisted that the average Querétarano wrongly believes that San Francisquito is dangerous, but it is likely that they have never been there. She feels safer and more at home there than in the suburbs or the countryside. On Revillagigedo people know and support one another.